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Retrain Your Brain to Stop Skin Picking

Retrain Your Brain to Stop Skin Picking

The urge is hard to fight. When you see an angry red pimple pop up, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to pick, prod, at peel at that little intruder living rent-free on your skin.

Can’t stop gnawing at your blemishes? There’s good news and bad news. The bad news: picking at your skin can make breakouts worse, and can even lead to scarring. The good news: you can retrain your brain to stop picking with a mixture of habit reversal training and a few good skincare products.

Here’s everything you need to know about compulsive skin picking — and how to stop!



Obsessive skin picking is officially called dermatillomania, a condition that’s similar to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Like OCD, it involves repetitive behaviors in response to distressing thoughts. You’ll know you’re dealing with dermatillomania if you have obsessive thoughts about a blemish, followed by searching, scratching, and a rush of relief.

Dermatillomania is a chronic skin-picking disorder that can cause a slew of other problems as picking creates scabs and can also leave behind scars, which are difficult to treat.

“Although 1 in 20 people may suffer from a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRBs), skin picking and hair pulling are less understood and often stigmatised and they can have an impact on how a person physically presents to the world,” explains psychologist Dr. Rebecca Sinclair of Brooklyn Minds mental health centre in New York.

This skin picking behavior can lead to a range of negative emotions due to feelings of shame. Skin pickers tend to experience anxiety, depression, and general frustration as a result of their compulsive habit.



Just like with chronic nail biting (onychophagia) and hair pulling (trichotillomania) disorders, it’s all about retraining your brain to break the habit. Here are some ways to do that, and finally take control of your excoriation disorder.

  1. Acknowledge Your Behavior

“The first step is acknowledging that skin picking is a problem and to stop hiding it,” says preventive medicine physician and wellness expert Sandra Darling, DO. “In order to heal, you need to release the shame associated with chronic picking. This can only happen once the behavior is out in the open.”

Maybe it started after a traumatic event in your life, or perhaps it typically worsens when you’re experiencing high levels of stress. Or maybe, it all began when you started getting pimples — and you thought squeezing and popping them would resolve the problem.

To paraphrase Darling, it’s important to acknowledge the behavior and let go of the guilt so you can finally start the healing process.


  1. Remain Aware, and Remove Yourself from the Zone

Skin picking can occur at all different times and places. When do you tend to pick? Pay attention to those moments when you feel the urge. Does it happen when you’re watching TV, working at your laptop, or in front of the bathroom mirror?

Establishing these connections are key, because it enables you to take the first steps towards controlling it. 

You can remove yourself from the picking zone by remaining aware and then reminding yourself that it isn’t a positive habit and you should stop. Or, swap that habit for something more productive. For example, the next time you feel yourself picking in front of the TV, go grab a tangerine or orange — something healthy to peel and keep your fingers busy.

You could also try swapping the negative habit for a rewarding activity, like sewing, knitting, or doodling. And try keeping a fidget toy at your desk to keep those hands of yours busy and away from your face! Anything to stop the cycle, and get that relief from something less destructive.


  1. Apply a Barrier

A barrier is something that covers the area you pick to help you step out of the compulsion. It could be a band-aid, protective clothing, a sheet mask, or even better: a pimple patch that serves as a barrier while treating active breakouts.

Rainbow’s Clear Blemish Patches are flecked with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide to drain zits of impurities while attacking acne-causing bacteria and encouraging speedy healing. Continue re-applying a patch every 6-7 hours, until your breakout disappears.


  1. Replace Thoughts of “Skin Picking” With “Skincare” + Take Action

Skincare products and following a skincare routine can help redirect your destructive energy to something more productive.

Reach for a hand cream or body lotion like Rainbow’s Hydrate Butter the next time you feel a picking urge pop up. Applying these products is a form of self-care, and a stress-relieving activity to help soothe your mind while actively helping your skin.

Another effective treatment is following a structured acne-fighting skincare regimen, morning and night. Start with Rainbow’s Anti-Blemish Facial Cleanser, followed by Anti-Blemish Serum, and Anti-Blemish Face Mask to proactively address acne while swerving your attention from picking to treating.


  1. Manage Stress + Anxiety with Deep Breathing

Anxiety disorders can often trigger skin picking disorders. Incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine, such as deep breathing, yoga, and meditation to de-stress, gain awareness, and break the skin picking cycle.

You could even try going to regular classes with a loved one to make sure you stay on track, and don’t give up.


  1. Consider Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for OCD and related disorders. A good therapist can help you change your self-talk and help you adopt new ways of looking at your problems. They can also teach you stress-reduction tools to help you take control of stress before it takes control of you.

Take advantage of all the resources available both locally and online including therapists, support groups and the TLC Foundation.

According to experts, therapy is much more effective than anti-depressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIS), which are typically prescribed for mental illnesses such as chronic depression.


Ready to retrain your brain to stop picking your skin? You’ve got all the tools above to get started!

If you’re experiencing severe acne such as cystic acne, speak to a dermatologist for a customized treatment plan.